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'Wait for Your Laugh': Film Review

‘Somm’ director Jason Wise looks at the astonishingly long career of singer and comic actress Rose Marie.

Taking its title from a piece of advice its subject gave an up-and-coming co-star, Jason Wise’s Wait for Your Laugh shows just how much more seasoned a comedian Rose Marie was than Dick Van Dyke when the latter’s sitcom made him famous. A loving doc that will open the eyes of youngsters who know her only from The Dick Van Dyke Show if they know her at all, it’s an unlikely outing for Wise, whose previous films Somm and Somm: Into the Bottle pointed toward a successful career making foodie-oriented docs. Though unlikely to reach nearly as broad an audience, this film will be warmly received by the TCM crowd.

Sounding a bit like that network’s late, beloved host Robert Osborne, narrator Peter Marshall (host of long-running game show The Hollywood Squares) begins at the beginning, with what will be news to most viewers younger than, say, 75: Before Shirley Temple was even born, Rose Marie was a comparable child-star sensation, touring the country singing with a grown-up voice under the moniker Baby Rose Marie. Belting tunes out in a style like that of “Last of the Red Hot Mamas” Sophie Tucker, she was a hit on the radio, with listeners demanding to see her in person to prove she was actually a child. It didn’t hurt that she was adorable, with bobbed dark hair and easy poise.

Baby Rose Marie had a coast-to-coast radio show on NBC when she was 5 years old, but her control-freak father — a “mean man” who had a second family on the side, and even gave his second pair of kids the same names as his first (!) — took all the money she made. The child also drew the attention of another mean man: Al Capone, who showed up at one of her Chicago concerts and took her home to meet his crew. In this instance, the mobsters were sweethearts: “Uncle Al” gave her a three-diamond ring and told Dad, “We’ll take care of her from here on in.” Decades later, the now-94-year-old singer has only lovely things to say about the many gangsters she would work and socialize with throughout her life.

One was Bugsy Siegel, whose Flamingo casino opened in 1946 with a now-grown Rose Marie doing a cabaret act alongside Jimmie Durante and Xavier Cugat. (As Rose Marie tells it, the invitation to play there came from longtime Hollywood Reporter publisher W.R. “Billy” Wilkerson, who helped Siegel launch the Flamingo.) She was in the Broadway hit Top Banana alongside Phil Silvers, and says Marlon Brando went out of his way to praise her performance. But when the play was turned into a movie, the actress had an experience ripped from today’s headlines.

As she tells it, a producer propositioned her, offering to “show her a few positions,” and she turned him down with a wisecrack everyone around them heard. All her songs were cut from the film. Wise careens amiably through the many, many chapters of Rose Marie’s career, smartly recruiting Van Dyke and Carl Reiner to flesh out the narrative of their show’s production. (Community creator Dan Harmon makes sure we know how influential The Dick Van Dyke Show was, and how novel it was that her character held her own against the men in the room, never presented as a sex object.)

As far as her personal life goes, Wise is most interested in her apparently blissful marriage to Bobby Guy, a stout trumpeter who was a standout in Bing Crosby’s band. Vintage film and photos of the two capture a truly charming couple, but Guy contracted an unexplained blood disease and died in 1964. Even today, Rose Marie weeps when she tells the story.

The doc’s final scenes find the wheelchair-bound performer still mentally fit and hungry to work. “I wanna go out onstage and show ’em!,” she tells Wise. Though this anecdote-stuffed doc leaves us wanting more of her songs-and-gags routine, it has just enough clips for us to wish she could return to the stage as well. Production company: Forgotten Man Films
Distributor: Vitagraph
Director: Jason Wise
Screenwriters-producers: Christina Wise, Jason Wise
Director of photography: Jackson Myers
Editors: Jason Wise, Bryan Rodner Carr

85 minutes

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